Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that has proven difficult to treat. It is a complex disease that is typically diagnosed in a late stage, so treatment primarily focuses on easing the patient’s symptoms and prolonging life expectancy. There is no cure for the disease, so all treatment options are considered palliative.
Your doctor will likely start by reviewing the traditional treatment options and discussing a multimodal approach, which may include a combination of:
Patients may also want to explore emerging mesothelioma treatment options such as immunotherapy and photodynamic therapy, as well as learn about clinical trials. Many patients also find relief through holistic treatments that focus on the whole person, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Surgery for Mesothelioma
If mesothelioma is diagnosed in an early stage and the patient is healthy enough, the doctor may perform surgery to remove as much of the cancer or the affected organ as possible. This is known as radical surgery. The most common surgeries for mesothelioma are:
- Extrapleural Pneumonectomy, or EPP. This surgery is used to treat pleural mesothelioma in the lining of the chest wall and lungs. The doctor removes the affected lung, as well as the surrounding tissue and lymph nodes.
- Pleurectomy Decortication, or P/D. In this pleural mesothelioma surgery, the doctor takes out the tissue that lines the lung and the chest wall. The surgeon also removes the tissue that lines the diaphragm and the mediastinum.
- Cytoreduction or debulking surgery. This surgery is used to treat peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the abdominal cavity and abdominal organs. The doctor removes as much of the cancer as possible from the abdominal cavity and gives the patient heated interoperative chemotherapy during the procedure.
Surgery may also be performed in an effort to relieve painful symptoms of mesothelioma. This is known as palliative surgery.
Your doctor will review any surgery options that may be right for you based on your diagnosis and general health. Be sure to ask about the pros and cons of surgery for mesothelioma, as well as the recovery process, so you are fully informed about what to expect.
Chemotherapy for Mesothelioma
Like with many other cancers, chemotherapy is a standard treatment for mesothelioma. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment that kills fast-dividing cells, such as cancer cells, throughout the body. Unfortunately, chemotherapy does not distinguish between fast-dividing cancer cells and fast-dividing healthy cells, so it can have severe side effects. These may include:
- Hair loss
- Fever and flu-like symptoms
- Fatigue or weakness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Poor appetite or changes in taste
- Difficulty breathing
- Pain in the chest
- Low white blood cell count
- Low red blood cell count
- Blood test abnormalities
Your doctor may recommend the chemotherapy drug pemetrexed or a combination of the drugs gemcitabine and cisplatin. These are the most common chemotherapy drugs for mesothelioma, although there are a variety of other options. Different chemotherapy drugs have different side effects, so be sure to discuss all the options with your doctor.
Radiation Therapy for Mesothelioma
Radiation therapy is a targeted treatment that aims to kill cancer cells and help shrink tumors. For mesothelioma patients, radiation has been shown to increase survival times when used as part of a multimodal treatment plan. It may also be used as a palliative treatment to ease pain and other symptoms of the disease.
Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma
Immunotherapy is an emerging treatment field for cancer patients. It uses a patient’s own immune system to fight the cancer cells. This may be accomplished by:
- Stimulating the immune system to identify mesothelioma cancer cells and attack them
- Blocking signals from the mesothelioma cancer cells that would allow them to go undetected by the body’s immune system
Unlike chemotherapy, immunotherapy is a targeted cancer treatment that does not affect healthy cells throughout the body. For this reason, immunotherapy has proven to be a gentler treatment for mesothelioma with fewer side effects.
Photodynamic Therapy for Mesothelioma
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a cutting-edge treatment that is being explored as an option for fighting mesothelioma. Patients are given a drug called a photosensitizing agent or photosensitizer intravenously. A special light is then used to activate the drug, which produces a specific type of oxygen that kills nearby cancer cells.
Although this type of treatment has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use on mesothelioma patients, it is a promising option. Like immunotherapy, photodynamic therapy has also shown to be a gentler cancer treatment with milder side effects.
Mesothelioma Clinical Trials
Researchers are always exploring new options for treating mesothelioma, with the goal of one day finding a cure. Experimental drugs and other treatments must go through a series of clinical trials in order to be approved for use by the FDA. Mesothelioma patients can work with their doctors to identify opportunities to participate in clinical trials.
Before participating in a clinical trial, you should:
- Get as much information as possible so you can weigh the risks vs. the rewards
- Identify any costs related to the trial, such as travel and lodging
- Check with your insurance to determine how participating in a clinical trial may affect your coverage
- Try to talk to other patients who have participated in the trial so you know what to expect
Holistic Treatments for Mesothelioma
Holistic care is meant to treat the patient as a “whole” person, rather than treating symptoms or focusing just on the cancer. A holistic approach factors in your physical, emotional and spiritual health. Common holistic treatments include:
- Homeopathic medicines
- Lifestyle changes in diet and exercise
In addition to treatments aimed at attacking the cancer, your doctor may recommend palliative procedures aimed at easing the symptoms of mesothelioma. Some of the common palliative treatments for mesothelioma symptoms include:
- Pleurocentesis or thoracentesis to remove a buildup of fluid in the chest
- Pleurodesis to seal the pleural space and prevent fluid buildup around the lungs
- Paracentesis to remove fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity
- Pericardiocentesis to remove fluid buildup in the pericardial sac surrounding the heart
It is important for mesothelioma patients and their families to focus on quality of life and choose the treatments that are right for them.
Paying for Mesothelioma Treatment
Treatment for mesothelioma is extremely expensive. However, there are several options for mesothelioma patients to recover compensation for the costs of treatment as well as other losses they have suffered related to the disease.
Because the only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, a skilled attorney can help a patient pursue compensation from the asbestos company(s) that is responsible for his or her disease. In some cases, the asbestos company may have already set aside money for victims in a bankruptcy trust fund.
In addition, a knowledgeable mesothelioma lawyer can identify whether a patient qualifies for veterans’ benefits, Social Security Disability payments or workers’ compensation. The attorney can handle all the paperwork in filing for these benefits to take the pressure off the patient and family members.
To learn more about your options for financial compensation after a mesothelioma diagnosis, schedule a free consultation today with the respected advocates at Mesothelioma Help.